Panama, Costa Rica Move Unwanted Migrants Northward

‘Panama is like bridge…’

Smugglers, Central American Governments Aid Potentially Dangerous Migrants in Reaching America

‘Special interest’ aliens in Costa Rican custody/PHOTO: Todd Bensman, Center for Immigration Studies

(Michael Barnes, Liberty Headlines) Panama and Costa Rica are helping thousands of Central American migrants reach the U.S. southern border through a policy known as “controlled flow.”

The mass-migration initiative provides government assistance to asylum seekers—regardless of their legitimacy—and includes Middle Easterners from terror-prone countries who blend into the U.S.-bound crowds.

The overwhelming concern is that terrorists could make their way into the United States undetected, if they haven’t already, contends Todd Bensman, national security fellow for the Center for Immigration Studies.

“At a time when the U.S. government remains partially shut down because congressional leaders have dismissed President Trump’s national security concerns at the border, these Central American governments have effectively become human smugglers,” said Bensman.


Bensman recently led a team of investigative researchers from CIS to Central America to report on mass migration activities. He discovered that Panama and Costa Rica are moving huge flows of migrants, including many Middle Easterners, northward toward the U.S.

“I interviewed migrants from terror-prone countries, including Pakistan and Iran, who outlined to me step-by-step how the authorities in Panama and Costa Rica are helping transport them closer to the United States,” Bensman said.

The research team complied its findings in a stunning video, which outlines terror travel concerns — something the U.S. State Department has expressed in an unclassified report to Congress.

The video reveals a well-known, but mostly unreported migrant camp in Yaviza, Darien Province, Panama, known as La Panita. The camp is a staging point for migrants from all over the world who intend to gain access into the United States.

Upon entering the camp, Bensman said he was swarmed by Panamanian military police. They demanded his passport, interrogated him and deleted his photographs.

“There’s a reason for the sensitivity,” Bensman explains. “The La Panita camp is ground zero of a bi-national government policy that would likely prove controversial if Americans knew about it.”

The country’s controlled flow policy originated in 2016, when the Panamanian government experienced large flows of Haitian migrants. The government didn’t want the Haitians living in Panama, so it incentivized them to travel north. The migrants eventually left Panama, but the policy remains in place.

Now, migrants reaching Panama—the first Central American country to geographically connect with South America—are given food, healthcare and shelter in friendly camps, as well as legal “permisos,” or permission to travel. The government then buses them, at no charge, out of the country and northbound to Costa Rica.

Costa Rica then repeats the same controlled flow process.

The policy is so inviting that many illegal migrants actively look for police to turn themselves in, only to be transported to accommodating controlled flow camps like La Panita.

The governments of Panama and Costa Rica “grease the skids” to get migrants smoothly and safely to Nicaragua, Honduras, and Mexico, where organized smugglers take over, the CIS researchers were told by locals.

Representatives from the Panamanian and Costa Rican governments declined to speak to Bensman, but one Panamanian politician agreed to speak with him on camera.

Juan Carlos Arango, who supports controlled flow, said “Panama is like bridge.”

“Wherever they come from, if they get here by boat, plane or walking through the jungle, they are very vocal about not wanting to stay in Panama. They want a passway north,” Arango said.

Bensman also interviewed unidentified migrants from Iran and Pakistan, and found other Middle Easterners from Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and Iraq.

In the video, he asks if the Central American governments had any issues with functioning as smuggling networks, despite the human rights gloss they ascribed to their actions. Bensman explained that they were also moving migrants from countries with known terrorist networks efficiently and safely on to the United States and Canada, destination countries with easy-access asylum laws.

But neither government would admit that controlled flow was officially sanctioned smuggling, nor did they speak to terrorism concern—although in 2016, six Pakistani migrants were deported from Panama due to U.S. concerns that they were Al Qaeda operatives.

Controlled flow would be an important subject of public discussion and debate if Americans and their elected leaders knew more about it, Bensman concluded.